MBA Student Portray: Interview with Lorena Gutierrez Castro from Colombia

Lorena Gutierrez Castro, well-known of her positive energy and active participation in in-class activities, is our current third semester student from Colombia. She joined the MBA International Management program at HfWU in the winter semester 2016. Being a globetrotter, Lorena speaks four languages (Spanish, German, English and French) and has been living a truly international life. Not only has she studied and worked in Germany and France, after obtaining her bachelor degree in finance and economics, she decided to come back to Germany to pursue her MBA studies in International Management. Here is Lorena’s story.

Q1: Why did you choose this MBA International Management program, and how did you discover it at the first place?

A1: Back in 2008, I have attended 11 months of classes in a high school in Germany. Because of the high quality education, I always wanted to come back to Germany to continue my studies. Later on, I have established my goal to pursue an MBA, so I started to do my research and found this program on the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) website.

Q2: How was your preparation for your studies/application?

A2: In order to fulfill the requirements, I prepared for the German and English language tests (TestDaf and Toefl) all by myself, which was quite challenging but manageable. Another challenging part is to collect all the required documents, such as the recommendation letter and certificates to prove my previous work and studies experience from my professors and manager. It took quite a long time to get everything prepared. 

Q3: What do you enjoy the most in this MBA program?

A3: I really like that we had an overview of different areas in business management in the first semester, then the theories and knowledge can be applied in the international and social contexts. I also appreciate HfWU’s emphasis on sustainability. From the classes we always learn about how business management can be integrated in the sustainable development of the society. For example, I have chosen “Social Entrepreneurship” as my elective course. As my ambition is to develop my own social projects in Colombia after my graduation, the class has really helped me understand the planning, resources management and operation of a social enterprise.

I also enjoy the international environment as the students in my class come from all over the world. Our university is quite small, but exactly because of this students have close interactions with one another. It´s an enriching experience as I learn a lot from our daily interactions with my fellow classmates.

Q4: Have you encountered any challenges during your studies? What are they and how do you overcome them?

A4: The assessment method here is quite different from in Colombia. In Colombia, we have more continuous assessments i.e. mid-term exams. Here the final exam plays the most important role in the assessment. The workload is quite heavy as we approach the end of the semester. I find it better to prepare for exams in solidarity – that is to learn in a study group.  It is good to help each other and it feels less stressful because we tackle the challenge together instead of doing everything alone.

Q5: Do you have any recommendations how the program can be further enhanced?

A5: I would prefer more elective courses because I have already done my previous studies in business. In my opinion, a more flexible program can allow students like me, who come from a business background, to have more opportunities and time to learn and explore new areas of studies.

Q6: Do you have any tips or advice to share with the future applicants?

A6: HfWU is situated in an advantageous location, as Baden Württemberg is one of the key economic backbones and business areas of Germany. I think students should take advantage of the plentiful opportunities in the surrounding areas.

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Lorena in front of CI1, the building where the important places are located for students: classrooms and the mensa in the Innenstadt Campus in Nürtingen

Lorena’s advice to candidates:
To prepare for your application, I believe that it is important to write your motivation letter genuinely, for example, about what your ambitions are and why you find this MBA program suitable. I would recommend candidates to read their motivation letters again before attending the interview. This helps you stay relevant and consistent in the conversation. It is also helpful to read the website of HfWU to get familiar with the course structure and content, so you are prepared to answer questions like “why do you choose this study program”.

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From Theories to Practice: the Innovation Management Workshop

Have you ever come up with new ideas how things can be done alternatively and people would say “Are you crazy”? As the world has been changing and developing in a skyrocket speed, is there actually still room left for us to innovate? If so, who is able to take up innovative work? Engineers? Scientists? Or product design and development managers? You may not know about it – everyone of us has the innovative DNA. The only thing we need to do is to activate them and keep on practicing innovation.

Innovation exists in every field and area. Taking business management as an example, competitive analysis, gaining competitive advantage are often discussed and emphasized. However, is business only about competition? Does success relate only to winning against competitors? Are there any innovative alternatives to achieve business, extending success beyond the company to the community space?

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To understand innovation in business, the MBA International Management students took part in a three-day Innovation Management Workshop as part of the curriculum of the elective course “Managing Innovation”. Prior to the workshop, students have learnt about innovation leadership, blue ocean strategies, as well as the innovation process in the lecture series introduced by Dr. Albrecht Enders. Business nowadays needs to be understood and built from a unconventional perspective, meaning that success is no longer defined by standing out from competitions only, but also by creating the “Blue Ocean“. By spotting the unfulfilled customer and community needs, brand new solutions can be found to meet those overlooked and emerging needs. Business success is no longer restricted to creating shareholder value from within. Rather, it extends beyond companies to communities. These key principles around Blue Ocean Strategies are crucial in contemporary business as environmental issues and social well-being are playing more and more important roles nowadays.

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The host of the workshop – Dr. Albrecht Enders and Dr. Jeanne Enders

Dr. Jeanne and Albrecht Enders from Portland State University flew across continents from Oregon to host this Innovation Workshop at the HfWU in Nürtingen, shared three fruitful days with the students.  In the workshop, students´ main task is to execute an innovative project by implementing the innovative process in groups. By  identifying the “blue ocean” – the potential area for innovation, students learned to take the big picture of shared value into consideration. The goal of such new business models and innovative design is to achieve a long-term sustainable development and shared value – maximizing customer and community value while minimizing the company cost and community impact.

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Dr. Albrecht Enders explaining the Innovative Metric

From planning, concepting, validating ideas to prototpying, students stepped into the shoes of innovators through all the stages of the innovation process. Starting with interview design, students conducted an interview in the neighborhood to understand the experience and need of the community. This was then followed by job mapping, a process to organize and prioritize the need of the target groups. Moving onto the concepting phase, students utilized their creativity to leapfrog and generate completely new solutions to fulfill the customers´ functional and emotional needs. By simulating customer sessions, students also learned to listen carefully and focus on customer needs during the process of concept development and selection.

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Sketches of new concepts
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Concept evaluation next to new concepts
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Some key take-aways in the workshop

Prototyping was last but not least exciting part of the workshop. Using different materials, students turned the sketches on paper into physical mock-ups. At the end, students presented the new concepts around the newly created solution, demonstrating their prototypes and sharing their experience with the class.

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The interactive and collaborative atmosphere of this workshop encouraged students to engage in peer-learning, in which they questioned, elaborated and experimented freely. After exercising each step of the innovative process, students received instant feedback from the lecturers to reinforce their understanding. The collaboration and idea-sharing are exactly the realization of the core idea of Blue Ocean – making competitions irrelevant and focusing on uncontested areas to create and capture new demand. Both the lecturers and students have gained much learning, experience and reflection after three days of intensive exercise, exchange and practice.

Room for innovation always exists if you dare to create it. Everyone can be an innovator if one discovers and grabs the opportunity to create a new path and to take the roads less taken. Take a little while everyday to activate your innovative DNA. As Dr. Enders quoted the famous American writer,

A person with an idea is a crank until the idea succeeds. – Mark Twain

Keep questioning, believing and holding onto your new ideas. Practice your innovative DNA – success may just be one step away!